Putting to rest a 126-year-old emotive dispute over the sharing of Cauvery water, the Supreme Court increased Karnataka’s entitlement on Friday by 14.75 tmcft to 284.75 tmcft and reduced Tamil Nadu‘s share to 404.25 tmcft while keeping allocations for Kerala and Pondicherry unchanged. Kerala will access 30 tmcft and Pondicherry 7 tmcft and the award that now has the SC’s seal can be re-examined only after 15 years, in 2033. This brings down the curtain on a volatile issue that has roiled Karnataka and Tamil Nadu politics for long while also giving successive governments at the Centre a headache.
Bench and the court proceedings
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar gave a unanimous verdict making a minor change in the 2007 award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT), which had, of the total available 740 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water, allotted Tamil Nadu 419 tmcft, Karnataka 270 tmcft, Kerala 30 tmcft and Puducherry 7 tmcft, while keeping aside 10 tmcft for environment protection and 4 tmcft as inevitable discharge into sea.
Authoring the judgment, CJI Misra said the share of Karnataka was increased by 14.75 tmcft because the CWDT had not taken into account two crucial factors – the availability of 10 tmcft groundwater to Tamil Nadu from the Cauvery basin and 4.75 tmcft of water required to satiate the drinking water requirements of residents of Bengaluru, a city with “global status”.
The award was welcomed by the Karnataka government. The reactions in Tamil Nadu were more negative with the opposition DMK criticizing the ruling A Justifying higher allocation to Karnataka, the SC said, “[The] Drinking water requirement of the overall population of all the states has to be placed on a higher pedestal as we treat it as a hierarchically fundamental principle of equitable distribution.” The court found fault in CWDT’s approach that only one-third of Bengaluru city fell within the Cauvery basin and also its presumption that 50% of drinking water needs could be met from groundwater supply. “Keeping in mind the global status the city has attained, an additional 4.75 tmcft is awarded to Karnataka,” it said.IADMK for not defending the state’s interests.
The CJI-led bench said, “In view of the allocation of additional 14.75 tmcft water to Karnataka, the state would now be required to release 177.25 tmcft water (instead of 192 tmcft it used to release earlier as per CWDT award) at inter-state border with Tamil Nadu, that is at Billigundulu,” the bench said, adding the allocation decided by it would remain in force for 15 years. Earlier, 192 tmcft water used to be released from Billigundulu to TN as per CWDT directions in a phased manner. The SC said since the total release from Billigundulu has been reduced to 177.25 tmcft, the monthly releases would be proportionately cut.
Rejecting the Centre’s stand that it had discretion to frame a scheme for the implementation of the judgment allocating Cauvery waters, the CJI-led bench said: “We direct that a scheme shall be framed by the central government within a span of six weeks from today so that authorities under the scheme can see to it that the present decision which has modified the award passed by the tribunal is smoothly made functional and the rights of states as determined by us are appositely carried out.” It said no extension would be granted.
In a landmark verdict that casts a long shadow on southern politics, Tamil Nadu’s share of water from the river Cauvery has been reduced by the Supreme Court and Karnataka will receive a bigger share. Karnataka will now release 177.25 TMC or thousand million cubic feet to Tamil Nadu instead of 192. Karnataka’s increased share takes care of the drinking water problems of its capital Bengaluru.